Star Wars the Old Republic MMORPG Review

TLDR: initially promising, ultimately disappointing.

(Original feedback to Bioware in plain text, tonight’s reflections in italic)

Biggest problem: on minimum graphics the game causes my two year old Gateway P-79 laptop to shut down from overheating.  This has damaged the graphics card.  At best I can get 20 minutes of play now, which is insufficient to do group activities.  So I’m choosing to play less demanding games instead.  Ultimately I went out and got a new gaming laptop, but it would have been nice to have held off from that purchase for another 6-12 months.

Launch: pre-launch guild creation was good, however the chat bug which disabled Guild, Party, and Officer chat on my account was vexing to say the least.  I didn’t feel well served by customer support in resolving this.  This bug prevented me from leading my guild, or engaging in group content.  Lesson learned: do not try and set up a guild when you still have an ongoing guild commitment elsewhere.  Its hard to find time to do both justice.

World design: the lower level worlds are the best. By the time I reached level 40+ worlds, the design was feeling stale and repetitive.  When I reached Corellia, I was forcing myself to finish quest lines just to see the next bit of my class story.  Playing the game had become a chore, rather than fun.  On Corellia, being surrounded by buildings I couldn’t enter, made the game feel fake.  Also, it feels weird that I am not sharing the same game universe with the both Empire & Republic players on all the worlds.  Levelling my second toon into the 40s, the process feels a little easier, but I’m still dreading Corellia.

Travel: is tedious.  First, running through starports is really dull. I often reach a starport, think about the long run ahead of me, and then log out of the game.  Second, speeders look weird, travel slowly, and don’t let me bypass mobs that I dealt with on earlier quests. Being constantly pulled off my speeder by mobs I defeated in earlier quests ruined any sense of progress and accomplishment in the game.  This has been slightly improved in terms of travel through Starports now being possible while mounted on a speeder.

Grouping: I don’t have time to waste hanging around the fleet hoping to find a group for instances.  Watching trade chat is not compelling gameplay.  If I’m waiting longer than a few minutes, what I want to do is log out of the game and switch to a game where I can do stuff.  They still don’t have a good Looking for Group tool, consequently you will mostly miss out on heroic (2 or 4 man world content) or instanced content while levelling.

Starship mini-game: the low level scenarios were interesting.  I was able to identify mistakes in my gameplay, and correct them.  When I realised that completing mid-level scenarios required grinding commendations for ship upgrades I stopped playing them.  Three months later – its still tedious and I’m still avoiding it.

PvP: I have avoided this entirely.  I don’t find WoW-style pvp gameplay compelling.  I play World of Tanks for an hour or two each night instead.  None of the scenarios available at launch appealed to me, and the concept of not being able to avoid Hutt Ball was a big turnoff.  World pvp looks broken to me, and I was quite surprised that you made it so broken, given that the problems Blizzard has had with designing open world pvp zones are so well known.  My flatmate put it best “I’m grinding through gameplay I don’t enjoy playing to get better gear that will enable me to be more effective at gameplay I don’t enjoy.  Why don’t I just stop grinding…”

Endgame: I started the questlines on Illum and the prison planet and died of boredom.  When I looked at the amount of grind required to acquire upgrade modules, I rebelled, and just said “No” to daily missions.  I also found that I just didn’t enjoy playing my class, so once the class storyline was done I was finished with it.  I still have not gone back to the Assassin.

Companions: I don’t regard the robot that comes with the ship as a companion.  Companions have been a big disappointment.  Levelling an assassin tank I really wanted a healer companion, but had to wait until Hoth.  Levelling a Bounty Hunter healer, I really want a tank companion, but I don’t have one yet.  I was really disappointed at the companion story for the Inquisitor’s medic companion, maxing full affection resulted in …. some obsequious dialogue.  I remember sitting in front of the screen thinking “That’s it?!”  Once the Bounty Hunter got its tank companion, it was far superior to the Assassin tank player character + companion.  Maxing out companion favour does now result in a small in game boost (+20 presence with other companions).

Talent trees: design feels old and dull, the approach Blizzard is taking in Mists of Pandaria just blows the SWTOR talents out of the water.  Choosing talents that boost my effectiveness in a single ability by 1% really doesn’t feel like an interesting choice.  With the Bounty Hunter, perhaps 3-4 of your talent choices result in gameplay changes, the other 35 odd choices just make you 0.5% better at what you do.

Abilities: at low levels I got abilities too quickly to figure out what I should be doing with them.  For the Inquisitor, signature abilities that make the class cool either looked dull in tank spec (force lightning) or were worse than useless as tanking tools (overload). Visually it ends up being a really dull class to watch in combat. Stab. Buzz. Stabby. Bzzt. Yawn.  Ability overload is a little easier to deal with now you can adjust how the UI displays action bars.  I still think having 30-40 abilities you use frequently is on the order of 10-20 abilities too many.

Music, Sound effects and Voice Acting: all good/excellent.

UI: I know you are overhauling this. My main feedback here is that I find it really hard to identify the abilities my opponents are using. I see strange coloured symbols and I’m not sure I should interrupt or not, and then its too late to interrupt anyway.  The setup for healing also feels awkward.  After years of using Healbot, Grid/Clique or Vuhdo in WoW, going back to pushing function keys to target party members feels painfully slow and prone to error.   I still find it impossible to determine which ability I should be interrupting.

Sith Inquisitor/Assassin feedback: This is the class I really wanted to play, as the storyline pitch of a slave rising to power really appealed to me.  In tank spec I was unable to complete the class questline solo, requiring help from other players on Voss (the dream boss) and Dromund Kaas (the fight with Zash).  I was unable to identify what I was doing wrong in these encounters, and after the second set of armour repairs I gave up all hope of figuring out what to do as I simply couldn’t afford the credits to keep experimenting. This made me feel incompetent.  The assassin does not feel heroic or awesome, when I fight mobs they die very slowly, and in an unspectacular fashion.  In play, I found myself forced to watch a small display of buffs right above the action bars, rather than being able to focus on the onscreen action. I’m still sad about this, and I screwed up the characters name when doing the server transfer when Dalborra was launched.

Specific turnoff points in the Inquisitor story line:

– I liked Khem Val, until I realised a tank companion was useless to a tank spec class

– I liked Zash, and I felt the betrayal came too early

– Not being able to defeat Zash solo (I never felt competent to do anything challenging again after this)

– Not being able to choose a more useful companion to face Zash with

– I did not like Zash/Khem Val in one body

– I didn’t feel like I earned the big ship superweapon, I just had some NPCs walk up and say “push the button for us, please”

– last act confrontation just felt like grind, grind, grind, I was always reacting to the bad guy, never setting the initiative.

The Bounty Hunter storyline has been better, at least insomuch as that I never been forced to beg other players for help in finishing my class quests.  It’s the Bounty Hunter that I will be doing a few more instances with, and trying to see some of the endgame content.  In the end I’m just too comfortable being a healer than trying to be a tank in a system that makes it really hard to know what the hell your tanking abilities do, and forces you to look away from what the mobs are doing on-screen so the buffs that keep you alive do not expire.

Many things are executed well in the game, although the Auction House is painful to use.  It looks good, and sounds great … but I struggle to want to play it more than 1-2 times a week.  So it’s not going to replace WoW for me.  It is nice that they launched servers based in Australia … but the maintenance schedule is such that they are offline most of Tuesday night, so its only a game ANZACs can play six nights a week.

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